The great Renaissance man Sir Francis Bacon held a caustic opinion of ‘old’ people “who object too much, consult too long, adventure too little and repent too soon.”
Wonder what he meant and who he was thinking about when he said that? I also wonder why he said it, did he have someone in mind? What was the catalyst for making him say it? So many questions could be asked about why he said it and there is so much to take from it. Over recent months ‘Old Age’ has been a concept that has taken me by surprise as a personal field of study. Everyone always things of themselves as being eternally twenty something and so there is an element even at thirty something of feeling old. I once asked my daughter when she was about eight about her new teacher and her only response was that she was really old. How surprised was I when I met her and found that she was about my age. I had a work colleague at one time who was going to retire and someone said of him “he is due to retire’. My response was that he was due to retire soon after he left University with his degree in Theology, or whatever it was.
You see ‘old age’ is a moveable feast that depends on so much more than just a linear timeline, as there are so many more factors to take into account. In this blog I have read of and know Officers who have felt hard done by because they were almost forced to retire and been very resentful about it and if you have your ear to the ground you will know of officers who in response to the question ‘How are you doing?’ ..will respond with how many years, months and days they have to go to retirement.
The real question that we should ask however is not what Francis Bacon was thinking about when he made that statement, but how we respond to it. I would dare say that how old you are would have something to do with your response. Now I am not talking about how many years you have been alive or even how many years you served, how many years since you became a former but how old are you in your thinking, in your head, the very core of your being and if you want to stretch it out even further, how old are you in your Soul?
I often wish that this was all as simple as it sounds but I believe that there is an antidote to aging. You can find with a very quick search on Google for ‘Antidote to Aging’ 246,000 entries all in .2 of a second (isn’t that amazing) but I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of them are all about our actual physical being, which some of us are concerned about but was not what Francis Bacon was talking about. Now I could spend a great deal of time talking about not allowing our mind to grow old and it revolves around things like listening to your internal wisdom, living in the present, giving up the need for approval, knowing that how you see the world ‘out there’ simply reflects your reality ‘in here’, shedding the burden of judgement, getting and giving forgiveness. If you are a centred person you will know all this stuff, however there is one quality that I have seen transform people dramatically and that is the ability to be flexible.
I did go to an outdoor ballet presentation once, under sufferance I might add, and because I had to be there early to reserve good seats I was able to see some of the dancers doing their exercises prior to the presentation. I was amazed and impressed at how they had trained their bodies to be flexible; I am sure this comes at a cost but it was amazing to see the end result. I believe that we also need to learn flexibility to ward of the old age that Francis Bacon talked about. It is comparatively easy to lock ourselves into continuing to believe and act how we did when we were seven. It’s a significant age and if you remember where you were in your spiritual journey at seven it is really easy to remain there. We have read and discussed at length on this Blog about ‘the Truth and nothing but the Truth’ and the question is where did we learn that truth and is it a truth for seven year olds or are we supposed to grow and mature and have an adult understanding of our Faith. It was Bishop John Shelby Spong who was one of the most recent teachers who championed the idea of not parking you intelligence at the front door when you go to worship. For me; I have a need to understand and rationalise what scripture is saying, but far more importantly I need to know what lessons it teaches and what it means for me. I have love of the Old Testament but if I take it literally I could sell my daughter into slavery (Exodus) with impunity and yet the church and others fought long and hard to ban slavery that is now a heinous activity. We could drag this out for pages and pages but all I want to do is highlight that to avoid Francis Bacon’s opinion of old people may not one day be applied to me because I am locked in to a theology that is archaic, stagnant and irrelevant.
Flexibility for me means that I will bend with the harsh winds of life and become old and wise, as opposed to being just old. The commencement of my former status did not mark the end of my calling, but in learning to be flexible (not a spiritual gift but vital necessary quality) I can continue to grow and develop into whatever the future may hold. I know more than anyone else that I am not there yet but I am taking time to think about my faith and it is far more significant now than when I sat in the Sunday School at my home Corps.
Tell me who you think Francis Bacon was talking about........